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Clin J Pain. 2016 Jan;32(1):14-9. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000220.

Feeling Hurt: Pain Sensitivity is Correlated With and Modulated by Social Distress.

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*Faculty of Medicine §Faculty of Psychology, University of Lisbon, Lisbon †Health Science Institute, Portuguese Catholic University, Lisbon, Portugal ‡Nerve Injury Unit, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston.



Social distress, resulting from loss or threat to social relationships, shares similar psychological and neuronal processes with physical pain. Recent evidence demonstrated that social distress may have an impact on pain. The current study aimed to further assess the relationship between these 2 phenomena.


Sixty healthy participants were randomly assigned to inclusion, noninclusion, or exclusion conditions of Cyberball, a virtual ball tossing game used to induce social distress. Pain and unpleasantness in response to noxious electrical stimuli were assessed before and after Cyberball manipulation. Psychological characteristics were evaluated by the Experiences in Close Relationships Questionnaire and the neuroticism scale of Big Five Inventory.


Significant correlations were found between social distress and pre-Cyberball unpleasantness thresholds: those who perceived the Cyberball task as more distressing demonstrated lower unpleasantness thresholds. Post-Cyberball manipulation pain intensity ratings, but not unpleasantness ratings, were lower in the inclusion condition. No associations were found between the psychological characteristic and the effects of Cyberball on pain or unpleasantness ratings.


The current study results indicate that participants' pre-Cyberball unpleasantness threshold is related to their responsiveness to social distress and that physical pain may be modulated by social events. Further studies are needed to clarify the clinical relevance of these results.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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